The Yale School of Medicine will hold a symposium in June to highlight the contributions of women in science, marking the 100-year anniversary of women at the school, according to an announcement made earlier this month.

The symposium — called “Celebration and Reflection” — will take place on June 1 and will be sponsored by the Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine, the Minority Organization for Retention & Expansion and the Dean’s Office. Open to all faculty, staff, students and alumni, the symposium will feature keynote speakers Mary Polan GRD ’70 MED ’75, professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Studies and Juanita Merchant MED ’81 GRD ’84, professor of Gastrointestinal Sciences. Panel discussions and exhibitions will focus on the history of women in medicine, the issue of female underrepresentation in the sciences and current issues that face women in STEM.

“We are calling the symposium not just a ‘celebration’ but ‘celebration and reflection’ because we have come far, but we have so much more to do before there is equity,” said professor Margaret Bia, who co-heads the planning committee for the symposium along with professor Elizabeth Jonas. “Yes, we are making progress, but it would be a travesty to just celebrate, considering that there’s not much to celebrate compared to what we need to address.”

According to Bia, the challenges women face in medical fields today are similar to what they faced a hundred years ago. Some of the most prominent issues, she said, are balancing work and life, finding female role models and mentors and being recognized equally in terms of pay and promotion.

Jonas told the News that the symposium aims to address the difficulties women face by helping the participants recognize the problems and by persuading them to advocate for change.

“We have an ill system here and we need to recognize the illness before we can fix it,” Jonas said. “Women are discriminated against in every part of our society, but it’s worse for those in STEM because women traditionally have doubted their ability to perform in these fields. Once people know what the problem is, they will together persuade the administration to make changes.”

Still, Jonas said the symposium will not be a “cynical and sad” day but a “very happy and productive one” that will hopefully draw more women toward the field of medicine.

The School of Medicine has also launched a website called “100 Years of Women at YSM” to celebrate the contributions women have made to the field of medicine. On top of featuring bios of distinguished women faculty and alumni, the website allows women to share stories and experiences of studying, teaching and working at the School of Medicine.

The website makes the amazing accomplishments of women more accessible and puts a spotlight on a number of role models for younger women in medicine, Jonas said.

Nita Ahuja, the chair of the department of surgery who was named one of the distinguished women on the website, told the News that the symposium and the website demonstrate the medical school’s dedication to better supporting women.

“Obviously, to be acknowledged that way by YSM is something I cherish,” Ahuja said. “On a bigger note, acknowledging how women have contributed to the field of medicine is important — not just what I do but what all women have done in history. The symposium and the new website shows that YSM is doing precisely that.”

Both Bia and Jonas emphasized the importance of implementing practical measures to better support women pursuing careers in medicine.

Max Petersen MED ’18 said that he and several of his peers are excited for the symposium and the changes it may inspire at the medical school.

“The director of the M.D./Ph.D. program at the Yale School of Medicine is a woman and she has been a role model for many of us, not just women,” Petersen said. “Through this event, students and faculty will get to meet more who have achieved a great deal in medicine and science. On top of this, I hope we implement practical changes that help women at our school.”

Serena Cho |